After Safia Elhillo Today I write down the last thing my mother and I both laughed at & I write down my partner’s birthday and all of his names & I write down how many days since the last attempt & I write down the title of every poem that has ever held me in its arms and told me I’ll make it & these days I feel so paper-thin, so parchment and puzzle & when I forget the good things I just look at myself in the mirror and read them again & again & again
Two little white parakeets evacuate from my sister’s fingers and in their agitation they fly into the walls they are persistent little things — persistent in the flapping and their panic even after going splat and they search, frantically, for the loftiest, most remote corner of our living room Like the uneasy dance of a flame Kimberly’s eyes keep up with the parakeets, but her body is still she points her stony chin to them and waits and the little white parakeets keep searching for holes in the ceiling and she waits, watching still, with locked knees and dancing eyes and a stony chin The little white parakeets have tiny little wooden feet And after a while their feet search for something solid One parakeet rests, The other follows, And something firm and silvery flashes in Kimberly’s hand A little bird’s head pops out from a space between her fingers she extends its wing and it is tense and in her other hand she extends the arms of a barber’s scissor I watch her barber’s scissor glide through flight feathers The feathers disintegrate — They fall to the floor like dust from a window sill — and the bird is still When they escape her hand the little white parakeets resume their flapping, they see the lofty corners but the keep fucking falling and after a while their eyes search desperately for holes in the floor
(i) “Some are transformed just once And live their whole lives after in that shape. Others have a facility For changing themselves as they please.” They talk about mothers turning into stones, hunters turning into stags but rarely speak of individuals changing within themselves; just souls inhabiting different bodies. So tell me, what is a myth? (ii) When I was a toddler, tucked into bed and refusing to give in to slumber, my mother would instruct me to pick two objects with which she’d create a story from scratch. The curtain and the clock. The pillow and the dresser. Lacking creativity, I would recycle my choices based on what was currently in view; there is only so much one can see from a supine position in a bedroom. Still, my mother would lie beside me and bring these objects to life, giving voice to the curtains who wished the clock would halt his noisy ticking, the dresser who existed in eternal envy of the pillow that had frequent interaction with me. The tales awakened rather than sedated me. Is that a myth — making the inanimate animate? (iii) A body can turn into another body without external transformation — I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it when I went from feeding myself one year to needing help the next — on the outside everything looked the same. I’ve seen it when I went from one day sitting unsupported to the next day needing a chest strap to keep me from falling forward, constantly — still my body looked the same. And I’ve seen it when my best friend went from helping me one minute to being awarded for it the next — this is the moment I was perhaps most transformed, when the difference between others and me, that veil they speak of, revealed itself for the first time — my body was exactly, exactly the same. I remain in that shape, even now. (iv) And when at elementary school we began to create drama, snickering at boys and whispering about crushes, it was not long before I could name for each of my friends at least one if not two boys who were in love with them. Joey brought Hannah a stingray stuffed animal on Valentine’s day (stingrays were Hannah’s favorite). Steven professed his undying love for Hayley right in front of my eyes. Then one day, while brushing my hair, my mother told me someone had a crush on me. My best friend Lauren had said so to her mom. But why hadn’t Lauren told me herself? At age seven I was more saddened by the idea that my mother felt the need to mythologize a figure who fancied me than by the thought of lacking a secret admirer altogether. Is that a myth — a claim that may never be verified? (v) Actaeon stumbles upon the naked Diana then finds himself not man but stag. Where can we place the blame? On the hunter who took aimless steps through the woods? On the goddess, defending herself in a world full of rape and terror? Is this what defines a myth — when a character is transformed as a punishment for something beyond their own control? If these things are so, perhaps my body is a transformation myth. The way it carries my soul, making the inanimate animate. The way it is at once changed and ever-changing, determined by the neurons that survive within it (a kind of punishment, it feels, on some days). The way I will never truly know why, oh why, it was made this way, or whether it even exists: such a thing as a disabled body. Opening quote from Ted Hughes’s Tales from Ovid
because tonight it rained for the first time in a month. Just for a few minutes, it never stays long, but afterwards the brand new baby leaves on our front yard aspens glittered like polished emeralds pulled from a late summer afternoon. The birds got louder, maybe to sing of rain-rebirth or perhaps the new crop of worms, or maybe the world just stopped for a second to listen. In Gypsum, rain is a gift. The Ute people call the town the hole in the sky because bad weather always seems to skirt right around it. I think Gypsum got missed by other things, too, the future drove right past on I-70 without looking to the right. It’s easy, I know, but if you glance out the passenger window and the sun is just right you’ll see green, emerald green, aspen green, green, green, green, all the way up the dirt road valley to the top of Red Hill. Gypsum is painted into colors and the world whips by at 60 miles an hour. Up in the hills above the highway there are the gypsum mines. I’m shit at geology but I could pick some gypsum out of a hat blindfolded if I had to, soft, flaky, barely even a rock. The breakfast table in my old house had a telescope view of the mine roads and I’d watch the trucks collect dust over my soggy oatmeal. In third grade we went to the factory for a field trip. We walked there from the school. They gave us a piece of drywall and promised that their polluting smokestacks were only steam, like cloud memories of the mines. Gypsum is not a water town, but a creek has snuck its way into the wrinkles of our lives. Softly, like a gentle reminder that we are not all rock. It feels like an afterthought compared to the respect commanded by the Colorado just a few miles away, but in the spring rainbow trout spawn and melted snow rushes over river rocks smoothed by seasons and time and the sunset’s reflection dances through the neighborhood. In Gypsum, all roads lead to dirt. Fifteen minutes out and you’ll forget about the mines and the cookie-cutter houses painted puke green and the air will tug on your lungs like wildflowers on the wind and the scent of sage burns in your memory and all you can see is rock and dirt and life and death and somewhere, a car is passing the exit and a fish is stuck in the stream and the birds are singing and wondering if it will rain again.
One day in this life, insha’Allah, I want to leave the train in Marrakech or Istanbul and listen to the adhan as it soars from morning minarets. I want to sleep with the city in the day when the shops are shut on Ramadan time and wake with her when the night begins to shake hands and sing — to pray for peace and give thanks for three sips of water and a date. I want to kneel shoulder to shoulder with sibling strangers and put my forehead to the masjid floor, grateful for a chance to be better and a path to walk on my journey home. I will give salaams to the people in the street, to the pilgrims and porch cats sitting below windowsill flowers. Until then, alhamdulillah, I will be here at the other end of this world with my hands in the rain-blessed soil of this garden mosque, content to praise Allah by watching the snow peas spiral towards the top of the fence post, or heaven.
I want to live with you in Indianapolis I’d like to work normal hours and shop for groceries and maybe go bowling And maybe we would go on a hike sometime or maybe we wouldn’t And maybe we’d have sex but we don’t have to And we can have friends but we don’t need them And we can talk about big things or we can talk about small things Like the weather or who is running for mayor or that the Walmart just moved our favorite yogurt to a different aisle And we could read mystery books and watch Wheel of Fortune And it would be nice but it doesn’t need to be So long as I get to be with you in Indianapolis
Life is a short thing, the flies that buzz around my room will stop their droning gaggle in a day a day or two, anyway. The large gourd-shaped hulk who bellows beneath the depths has over 200 years, that lucky thing and when my son tugs at my pant leg, and asks me why my hair starts to look like the feeling of a key ring, silver and weighed down by things, I read him a book about whales and hope that he will not ask how many whale lives I have left but how many fly lives I have. Life is a long thing, when starfish lose limbs, it’s usually just because they’re a little warm, it’s their small discarded sweater but when I get a little warm at night, my body shoved by invisible currents, I sit in the cavity of the couch eyes falling like stars from when I used to stay up all night and it was an act of joy, instead of a lonely, slow-moving river that just pushes me towards when that orange strobe rises above the water line, when my eyes clench from its brilliance and the bones in my body have not fallen off like the starfish, they have never felt so weighted. Life is a short thing, because the macaroni penguins, they mate for life, and my son and I were watching discovery channel discuss Antarctica, a place that feels like running out of time, at the end of the world, something like me, and he turned to me and said that he wished I were a penguin so I didn’t have to be alone. I said I’m not alone, I have you. And he smiled the same smile from when he visited his first zoo and said “I have you too” and the narrator talked on.
A goldfinch caught in the light sits on the faucet in my kitchen, displaced: there are splinters in the yard where his birdhouse used to be. A door behind me opens. My son in the hallway holds a paperweight. His face turns fiendish, his arm cocks — The bird opens like a music box, revealing the shades of his insides.
Five weeks after we met two weeks after we'd been living together, in heaving heat, he walked me to the train station. We saw the Acropolis along the way, the ruin cliffed in high sky. He carried my backpack, my five weeks humped behind his shoulders. At a crossroad he peeled his hand from mine and gave me a paper bag — What is this, I’d asked, and he said, as if he would every day for many years, for when you get hungry. Honey sandwich and apple. We passed narrow train tracks, where trains sometimes came, ducked station turnstiles that have not worked in months. We sat in silence and when my train came, air splattered against me like paint. We turned to each other, he pressed my head into his wet chest, my heart between his stomach and his hand. I think I’ve said all I want to say, he said and into his chest I told him, he who had said he did not love me, I love you through the window I saw him, standing, the train moved, I went back to not knowing him, what we grew emptying, mile by mile.
i tried installing a shower drain in my sternum i texted like 10 surgeons each had some version of no nastiness will stick down there not just lotions in gummed up hair but ash and crumbs and smells too the fumes of jealousy will stain like wine and stripe the bones if any bleach in rage hits ammonia in fear youll be done then theres all the little things belly marbles of contempt ulcers of unread emails tonsil stones of regret might swallow too-small clothes that slip past the solar plexus where they’ll rot so bad you can’t forgive your parents youll need more pills one doctor said to block all nightmares at the neck youll want to cast your clavicle in false praise and cement he sent the scripts and that emoji w/ a zipper for a smile from another just screenshots of gauze 1. stuff down your esophagus 2. call ambulance for side effects i was recommended apple sauce i was referred to a psychiatrist i bought extensions for my spinal cord but got all tangled in the wires im stuck i decided ive got water on the tongue so i wrote im out of office packed a stethoscope and drove until i reached the thin horizon where in a haze of eucalyptus with the metal to my diaphram unanesthetized and mirrorless i held a needle to my center and my breath so i could listen past years of rust and mold i tore my own drain open